1. Their Places Exchanged
Pippin tossed and turned, unable to sleep. He had been feeling blue and sad all day, and the tense atmosphere in the City was not helping his mood one bit. In the nearby bed, Gandalf's breathing was steady and even. Pippin sighed and wished he could rest as easily, but he was unable to stop thinking about all that had taken place earlier that evening as Faramir had reported to the lord Denethor of his meeting with Frodo in the wilds of Ithilien.
Afterwards, Gandalf's words of explanation about Frodo and Sam's situation had not been comforting, even though the wizard claimed to see some hope in what seemed to be happening out there in the East. Pippin knew he was gravely concerned about possible treachery at the hands of Gollum who now traveled with them, yet at the same time, Gandalf was at peace with it as something that was meant to be. It was frightening to think of Frodo at the mercy of that treacherous creature, traveling to a place that made even Gandalf afraid -- but all that was not what occupied Pippin's sleepless thoughts. If only he could stop hearing the same conversation over and over in his head....
"Do you wish then that our places had been exchanged?"
"Yes, I wish that indeed."
Gandalf was not asleep after all.
"I'm sorry, Gandalf," Pippin apologized. "Did I disturb you? I'm having a little trouble falling asleep is all. Sorry to be a bother! I'll be fine, don't worry!"
"Pippin," Gandalf said again, gently. "Something is troubling you, and you will not be fine until you speak of it. I have yet to meet a hobbit who could not sleep soundly when the opportunity arose, so by the very fact you cannot sleep, I know something is wrong. Tell me."
Pippin sighed loudly in the darkness. "It's the lord Denethor, Gandalf. I can't stop thinking about what he said to Faramir. He said he wished their places had been exchanged, that Faramir had been in Boromir's place. How could he want his own son to die, even if it meant Boromir might live?"
"Ah!" replied Gandalf. "So you think he was saying he would rather have Faramir dead than Boromir?"
"Yes, what else could it mean? How could a father wish for such a thing for his own son?"
Pippin heard Gandalf rise from his bed, and then he was there sitting beside him, a comforting hand resting on his shoulder.
"I hope that what I am about to say will remove any doubts you might have, Pippin," the wizard said, his voice quiet but firm. "I am quite certain Denethor meant no such thing! I have visited this City a number of times over the years, and while I do not know Denethor well, I have observed him closely enough to be able to say with great faith that there are few fathers in the world who value their sons more than he. He is a proud and confident man, and stern though he is, he loves his sons, his people, and this City with a deep, unassailable love; in return, the people of Gondor trust him as a leader who knows clearly what needs to be done at all times so that they might thrive and be kept safe. He is a kingly man who cannot be called king. All his thoughts, all his plans, all his efforts are spent in leading his people during these desperate times, and no decision he makes towards that end is without reason, whether others agree with those decisions or not. He holds his sons strictly to the same task, though it makes him oft seem cold and uncaring. His stern demeanor does not belie the love he has for his sons and for his people, however. To suggest that he would wish his sons' places to be exchanged so that Faramir would be dead and Boromir alive is impossible!
"I heard the same conversation as you, Pippin, but to me, it means something else entirely. Think for a moment. You consider only that Faramir would have been where Boromir was when he met death, if their places had been exchanged. If Faramir had been upon Amon Hen when the Uruk-hai attacked, then perhaps that might have actually resulted in his death, even as it resulted in Boromir's -- yet no one can know or even guess with any certainty what might happen when a different course of events is set in motion. It is therefore not certain that Faramir would have died in that place, so how can you be certain that Denethor means he wishes his son had gone there to die? No, think rather of where Boromir might have otherwise been if not traveling with the Fellowship. That is the key, I believe. If Boromir had been stationed in Ithilien instead of Faramir, then he would have been in place to meet Frodo and Sam when they were taken to the hidden outpost. What would have happened then? Would Boromir have let Frodo proceed with his quest in the same way that Faramir did?"
Pippin thought carefully for a time. "You're right. It's hard to think of what might happen if things had been different. I'm not so sure, really. I want to think that Boromir would be like his brother and let Frodo and Sam continue on their journey, after he heard how important it was and all. But Denethor thought it would happen otherwise, didn't he? That's what he meant when he said Boromir was loyal to him and would not have squandered what fortune gave, right? He wanted Frodo brought here to Minas Tirith, and he thinks Boromir would have obeyed him and done just that."
"Indeed, it is clear that is what he believed," Gandalf answered. "He also believed that by bringing Frodo here, the Ring that Frodo carries would be here, as well."
"But... but that wouldn't be good, would it?" Pippin stammered. "The Ring is dangerous and shouldn't be used by anyone, or even hid somewhere to be kept safe -- isn't that what you all have been saying? That's why it's going to be destroyed, right? Because it's not safe to to do anything else?"
"Yes, Pippin, that is what must be done. But Denethor, for all his wisdom, for all his strength as a leader and a tactician in war, fails to see the danger he would bring upon himself if the Ring should come here to Minas Tirith. He thinks only of keeping it safe from Sauron, though its use as a weapon if all else fails might also be on his mind. You were not at the Council of Elrond when these matters were discussed and Frodo was chosen for the task of destroying the Ring. But Boromir said something there that was quite telling -- and I believe Denethor must be thinking something similar."
"What... what did Boromir say?" Pippin voice shook a little with the question.
"Upon hearing the talk of destroying the Ring, Boromir spoke up and said, 'Why should we not think that the Great Ring has come into our hands to serve us in the very hour of need? Wielding it the Free Lords of the Free may surely defeat the Enemy. That is what he most fears, I deem. The Men of Gondor are valiant, and they will never submit; but they may be beaten down. Valor needs first strength, and then a weapon. Let the Ring be your weapon, if it has such power as you say. Take it and go forth to victory!' He was quickly made to understand the danger of using the Ring as a weapon, and he accepted the reprimand and the final decision of the Council."
"Ah!" said Pippin, feeling relieved.
"Even so," Gandalf continued without pause, "it does not surprise me to hear similar words coming from Boromir's father. No, Denethor does not say in so many words that he would use the Ring if it came to his hand, but I have no doubt that is in his mind, if the need arose. We heard him speak of the folly of using the Ring, that it should be kept hidden dark and deep -- yet he also spoke of uttermost need, thus opening himself up to the danger of using it. And I think he would surely find himself facing such a need, if the safety of his people and of Gondor were at stake."
"And that is why he is so angry now, I guess," Pippin sighed. "He's worried about what will happen with the war and all now, and maybe he feels like Faramir didn't obey him like a son should have. Denethor wanted Boromir to be in a place where he would make a better choice than Faramir did when he decided to let Frodo go to Mordor. Not so that Faramir would die and Boromir would live, but so that Frodo and the Ring would come to Minas Tirith, if Boromir actually decided to do that. But it's good that it worked out this way, isn't it? Not because Boromir is dead -- oh, no, not that! But Frodo had to be allowed to go on, didn't he? And even though it made his father angry, Faramir helped Frodo do that."
"He did indeed."
"I understand better now, I think," Pippin went on. "I hope Denethor won't stay angry with Faramir! And I'm truly glad that he doesn't want Faramir to be dead instead of Boromir! Though I wish... I wish they could both be alive, and here with us."
"We all wish that, Pippin -- though the Steward and his remaining son must wish it more than anyone!" Gandalf patted Pippin on the shoulder and rose from the bed. "Do you think you will be able to sleep, now that all your doubts and questions are answered?"
Pippin laughed. "I don't know for sure, but I think so! Thank you for knowing I was worried, Gandalf, and helping me understand."
"You are most welcome, my lad. Rest now and good night!"